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Building Executive Functioning Skills throughout the School Year

Do you have a student who frequently forgets to bring materials home or hand in homework? Have you ever wondered why a student who seems to grasp a concept is unable to apply the idea to new topics? Do you worry that the chaotic state of your child’s room is the physical manifestation of his scattered mind? Chances are these students are still developing key areas of their executive functioning skills.

These neurological processes help us perform daily tasks that require organization and self-regulation. The ability to manage our executive functioning skills develops throughout childhood and the teen years and often needs to be explicitly taught and practiced. Don’t assume your student has mastered these essential skills; rather, look for opportunities to nurture them and help set students up for success in and out of the classroom. After all, executive functioning skills are some of the foundations for learning.

September: Time to Organize – Organizational Skills

Developing systems of organization from the first day of school is a crucial part a successful school year. Teachers and parents should think of themselves as organizational coaches and help students master basic strategies for managing materials and ideas.

  • Backpacks are the mainstay of student organization from kindergarten through college. Help students develop the routine of emptying their backpacks at the end of each day and sorting materials into those that stay at home, those that return to school, and those that will be recycled.
  • Provide time at the end of each class or day for students to fill-in planners. Many schools provide paper planners, but students who tend to lose materials may benefit from an electronic planner app.
  • Provide time at the end of each week for students to clean desks and lockers.
  • Checklists are wonderful tools for organization. Have students tape school-to-home checklists in their lockers or keep home-to-school checklists in folders in their backpacks.
  • Organizing information is just as critical as organizing materials. Teach note taking styles like Cornell Notes and how to use graphic organizers.

October: Setting Goals

Students have been in school for a month, you know them a bit better, and parent conferences are on the horizon. It is time to set meaningful academic, social, and/or behavioral goals. Students should be included in the process of setting goals; after all, they are the ones striving to achieve them!

  • Keep goals specific and meaningful. For example, “I will spend ten minutes at the end of each school day filling in my planner and prioritizing my homework,” is an achievable goal for a student who is struggling with remembering homework assignments.
  • Guide students in setting goals and have them complete goal-setting worksheets. Have students review their progress on a regular basis.
  • If achieving goals were easy, we wouldn’t need them. Be a role model by setting a personal or professional goal and sharing your achievements and setbacks with your child or students. Likewise, setting a goal as a class or family can model the process with the safety of knowing it is a group effort.

November: Make a Plan and Stick with It – Planning & Prioritizing

The natural extension of setting goals is seeing them through. However, it is one thing to set a goal; it is a different thing to come up with a plan to achieve it. With the increased expectation that students complete long-term research papers and project-based learning assignments, learning how to plan a strategy for completion and see it through is more critical than ever.

  • Give students a few minutes at the end of each day to prioritize their nightly homework in planners by numbering assignments from first to last. Starting with the most difficult work is often a good choice so students are mentally fresh.
  • Help students create step-by-step timelines for long term assignments. Encourage brainstorming and outlining prior to writing.
  • Share scoring rubrics with students before they begin assignments. Rubrics provide a visual map of expectations and are perfect starting points for planning projects, writing assignments, and encouraging students to reflect critically on their work.
  • Engage students with games and activities that involve strategic planning, like chess and capture the flag.

December: But I Don’t Have Time! – Time Management

Our children are busier than ever. They juggle full school schedules, sports, lessons, and clubs, not to mention friends and family. Mastering good time management strategies becomes essential as students move into middle and high school and demands increase.

  • Students need to develop a sense of how long it takes to complete homework. Ask students to track the time each assignment takes by writing the total time they worked on an assignment in their planners next to each subject. This will enable students to estimate more accurately the time required to complete work and plan accordingly.
  • Most schools adhere to a recommended time for homework each night, typically ten minutes per grade level. If you child consistently takes longer then the recommended time to complete work, even with good time management practices, consult with her teacher. A trial run of modified assignments, that either reduces the workload or grading only the work completed within a set time, may decrease student frustration and increase learning.

January: Procrastination – Initiating Work

Getting back into a routine after a vacation can be a challenge for any of us, but students who have weak task initiation skills may find it particularly difficult. Use these tips to help students avoid procrastination and get started on tasks.

  • Ask students to write down the task they need to accomplish, estimate the time it will take to complete the work, and track start and finish time. Start with small tasks that are readily achievable.
  • Use verbal and nonverbal cues to signal the start of new tasks. For example, prompt students with keywords like “now” or “first” and gently tap your fingers on their desks.
  • Build in breaks. Let students know that after they have worked for a set time they will have a fun break activity. Younger students or those with attentional difficulties may need to start with short 5 – 10 minute effort times. Make brain breaks a part of your daily classroom schedule.
  • Don’t punish students by taking away recess. Exercise is crucial and often students who struggle in the classroom need these movement opportunities the most.

February: I Can’t Take it Anymore – Emotional Control

It is the depth of winter and the novelty of a new school year has long since worn off. Many students, parents, and teachers alike have reached their breaking points. It is time for all of us to focus on developing our emotional control skills.

  • Consult with the school counselor, most have some type of mindfulness training. Ask for classroom tips or invite her into the classroom to teach your students relaxation and anxiety reduction strategies.
  • Dim the lights, get your students comfortable, and play a guided relaxation audio like this free one for children.
  • Present typical scenarios where students may become frustrated or upset, such as playground confrontations, transition times, and test days. Have students take turns role-playing these situations and suggest simple go to phrases or methods for handling each scenario.

March: Bend that Mind – Cognitive Flexibility

Think back to your own student years where you were required to switch from subject to subject every fifty minutes, translate a math word problem into a numeric equation, then recognize a theme in a novel and write an essay using supporting details. All of these situations require students to shift from one way of thinking to another within a relatively short period, how exhausting! Those who struggle with cognitive flexibility are more likely to hit learning roadblocks and have difficulty finding alternate solutions to those problems.

  • Give students the opportunity to shift their thinking by announcing transitions ahead of time, following a set schedule, and including them in decision-making processes about schedules and routines.
  • Stretch their cognitive flexibility by asking children to think outside the box. Classroom warm-up times are perfect for challenging thinking with shifting activities including: visual word puzzles; word searches; optical illusions; puns, jokes, and riddles; board and card games like Spot It; and even some strategy-based online games.
  • Always guide students in making connections between big ideas and details. Some of us are bottom up thinkers and others are top down, either way, recognizing the interconnectedness of themes and details across subjects is essential to learning.

April: Thinking about Thinking – Metacognition

Educating a child is in large part, about training the student to think. Metacognition can be a difficult skill to foster because it asks students to reflect upon their own work. All of us want to succeed and reflecting critically about ourselves can be a difficult and emotional process.

  • Have students draft “How I Learn Best” letters to next year’s teacher reflecting on what they have discovered about their learning styles over the year. See to it that the letters make it into the hands of next year’s teachers.
  • Requiring students to submit study strategy reflection forms with tests and projects encourages them to evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts and contemplate how they can adjust their tactics to improve upon work quality the next time.
  • Encourage students to check over their work and require them to make corrections after assessments. Teach editing skills and require re-writes of papers.
  • Reflect on your own teaching or parenting methods periodically. If a student isn’t progressing toward a goal as you would like, examine what you can do differently to support her in obtaining that goal.
  • Praise children’s efforts, not their abilities. Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, is a must-read for parents and teachers.

May: What Did I Forget? Working Memory

Working memory is the keystone bridging long and short-term memory. Students with weak working memory skills will struggle with retaining and applying the concepts they learn. As final exams approach, even those students with strong working memories may reach their upper limits of retaining information.

  • Find the memorization strategies that work best for your subject and teach them to your students. Give students the time to practice and develop these techniques into habits. Read Help Teaching’s Memorization Strategies Checklist for some suggestions.  
  • Permit students to write information, like mnemonics and key words, on the test before answering questions. This frees up working memory and allows students to focus on applying what they studied with the knowledge that they can still refer to the information as needed.
  • Students with diagnosed working memory weakness may require classroom accommodations like the ability to audio record lectures, have copies of teacher notes, or access to word banks on tests. Parents and teachers should work closely to develop and implement these accommodations. 

June: Bringing it Home – Strategies for Summer Vacation

Routine, routine, routine. The structure of the school year has been removed and children, especially those with weak executive functioning skills, require predictability in their routines. Develop the routine for summer, from set meal and bedtimes to consistent daily childcare, and stick with it. Keep systems in place that were used successfully during the school year. For example, if your child does well with a planner, work together to fill out a family calendar at the start of each week with where she will be each day and what activities are planned. Simply giving your child the control of knowing what each day will bring will hopefully minimize meltdowns, anxiety, and disorganization. Mostly, praise your children’s efforts, acknowledge their progress, and enjoy your time with these fabulous people.

Be sure to check out our study skills worksheets to support your teaching needs.

8 Reasons Why I Teach Banned Books… and You Should Too

8 Reasons Why I Teach Banned Books

It seems like every year a new book makes the news for being challenged or banned by a school. Books that have been banned run the gamut from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to The Holy Bible. While some parents and teachers have legitimate concerns, others have less valid reasons (a library patron in Toronto, Canada wanted to ban Hop on Pop because it encouraged children to use violence against their fathers). Regardless of whether books contain controversial content, they should still be accessible to students. Here are eight reasons why banned books should be accessible to students.

They Challenge Students to Consider Alternate Viewpoints

As a parent, your first instinct is often to shield your children from things you don’t want them to see, but you can’t hide the world from your children forever. Banned books are often challenged because they contain controversial content or don’t mesh with adults’ beliefs, but that doesn’t always mean they’re bad. Instead of simply banning a book that contains an alternate viewpoint, use the book as an opportunity to safely expose students to that viewpoint. While reading the book, use reading response activities to discuss what’s controversial about it and why people might disagree with the actions or viewpoints held in the book. If you’re a parent whose child has to read a book for school that you don’t agree with, read the book with your child and talk to him/her about the content. Explain to your child why you don’t agree with it and encourage your child to share his/her thoughts too.

They Introduce Students to Diverse Characters

Often children live in their own little world where their friends and family members largely think and act like they do. While there are some exceptions to this rule, most children don’t get the opportunity to experience people and places that aren’t familiar to them. Many books have been banned throughout history because they contain diverse characters that children may not have encountered before. For example, the book Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan was challenged because the main character says a prayer to Allah in the book and the picture book And Tango Makes Three was challenged because the main characters are two male penguins who raise a chick together.

It’s important to remember that reading a book with diverse characters doesn’t mean you support those characters’ lifestyles or thoughts. Reading books with diverse characters can help students understand the different types of people that exist in the world and help them better prepare to interact with those people when they encounter them.

They Take Students Out of their Comfort Zone

Why are most books banned? Some of the most common reasons are because they include:

  • racial themes
  • alternative lifestyles
  • inappropriate language
  • unpopular religious views
  • sexual or violent content
  • unpopular political views
  • references to witchcraft or the occult
  • characters doing drugs or smoking

All of these reasons for banning books have one thing in common: they make people uncomfortable. It’s not fun to feel uncomfortable. It’s not fun to read something that takes you out of your comfort zone or challenges you to look at a situation differently, but it happens a lot in life and it’s bound to happen to children at one point or another. Should third graders be required to read books that contain excessive violence or sexual references? No. Should an eleventh or twelfth grader? Maybe. Because the eleventh or twelfth grader is about to enter a world where these issues will appear and what better place to practice being taken out of your comfort zone than in the safety of the classroom or your own home?

They Teach Valuable Lessons

In addition to taking children out of their comfort zones, banned books can often teach valuable lessons about identity, tolerance, or even freedom. For example, the book The Art of Racing in the Rain teaches readers a valuable lesson about the grieving process. The book The Working Poor: Invisible in America teaches a lesson about the real problems the working poor in America face. Brave New World teaches students about the extremes of passion and offers a bleak view of the future that students can connect to the future of the world. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been banned numerous times its use of the n word, despite being regarded as one of the most valuable pieces of American literature.

They Can Be Interpreted in Multiple Ways

A book that is banned in one school or district may be perfectly acceptable in another. Take the case of Hop on Pop. One person in Toronto thought it advocated violence against fathers, but how many others have read the book and seen something completely different. What about the book And Tango Makes Three? Are children likely to see it as more than a story about a family of penguins? You could write a book with nothing offensive in it and, as a adults, we are often more likely to find offensive content than children.

They May Be Banned for Silly Reasons

Sometimes this also leads to books being banned for silly reasons. Did you know Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic was once banned in an elementary school because it encouraged children to break dishes instead of dry them? The popular Harriet the Spy was once banned because Harriet is a spy and being a spy means that she occasionally lies and gets into mischief. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was banned because it talked about a girl getting her period. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin was banned because an author with the same name wrote a book about Marxism. Before you turn down a book because it has been banned, consider the reason it was banned. You may realize you were avoiding a book for no good reason at all.

They Are Often Great Books

Frankly, no one takes the time to ban a bad book. Not usually anyway. Books become banned because they become popular and fall into the hands of a diverse group of people. At some point, they’re bound to offend one of those people. Some of history’s greatest authors – Toni Morrison, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Judy Blume – have written books that have been banned. By refusing to teach or let children read banned books, you’re often causing them to miss out on great writing.

They Promote Free Speech

But at the end of the day, the main reason to teach banned books is because books should never be banned in the first place. If you live in the United States, you know that one of the greatest freedoms you have is the right to free speech. Banning a book suppresses the author’s right to free speech and also suppresses students’ right to access media. Yes, a book may be inappropriate for a particular age group or it may contain controversial content, but banning books is a form of a censorship, the same censorship people decry in third world countries, the same censorship that is warned against in books like Fahrenheit 451:

“Black people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Take your fight outside. Better yet, into the incinerator. Funerals are unhappy and pagan? Eliminate them, too. Five minutes after a person is dead he’s on his way to the Big Flute, the Incinerators serviced by helicopters all over the country. Ten minutes after a man’s speck of black dust. Let’s not quibble over individuals with memoriams. Forget them. Burn all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean.”

The solution to handling books that contain content someone doesn’t like isn’t to ban them. Instead, teachers and parents can use these books as a learning tool and discuss them with children in a safe environment. That doesn’t mean you have to read all controversial books, but it does mean you shouldn’t avoid everything just because someone says it’s no good.

Top STEM Competitions – Could Your Student Be the Next Winner?

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) contests and competitions benefit students in many ways. They can inspire students to pursue careers in STEM-related fields and challenge teachers and homeschool parents to take STEM education to the next level. Quality competitions provide students with hands-on practice and application of core STEM concepts they are studying and support project-based learning initiatives. Updated for the 2018 – 2019 school year, we’ve gathered a list of the top STEM competitions by age group to help you find the perfect opportunity for your students.

Before committing to entering any STEM competitions, consider the following criteria:

Curriculum Alignment – Does the competition directly support your curriculum and education standards? Do you have the classroom time to devote to working with students on their entries? If not, consider starting a school club dedicated to the project.

Cost – Many competitions cost nothing other than time, others require the purchase or donation of materials, and still others require travel and associated expenses. Determine your budget prior to selecting a competition to avoid student disappointment if funding is not available.

Timeline – Each competition will have a set competition timeline. In addition, some will require registration well before the submission deadline. Make sure the timeline works with your teaching schedule so students have ample time to complete quality projects.

Individual vs. Team – Science is collaborative and so are many STEM competitions. Decide if it is best for your students to compete individually, in small teams, or as a class, and then select a competition that fits those needs.

STEM Competitions for Multiple Age Groups

America Computer Science League – The ACSL challenges students in grades 3 – 12 to solve computer science and programming problems in this international competition divided into division by age group and computing experience.

ExploraVision – The National Science Teachers Association and Toshiba ask small teams of K-12 students to envision what a current technology will look like in the future. The ExploraVision competition has refocused over the past several years to align with Next Generation Science Standards.

FIRST – With school teams and clubs worldwide, hundreds of thousands of students grades K-12 participate annually in FIRST’s hands-on robotics programs and competitions.

NASA Ames Space Settlement Contest – K-12 students design permanent orbital settlements. There are contest categories for students in each grade 6 – 12 and for individuals, small groups, and large groups.

National Science Bowl – Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Bowl challenges middle and high school students to face-off in a question-style science and math contest.

Science Olympiad – With competitions in all fifty states, the Science Olympiad is one of the best-established STEM competitions around for students in grades 6 – 12. Tournaments focus on teamwork and consist of standards-based challenges.

Team America Rocketry Challenge – Middle and high school students take part in designing, building, and flying rockets complete with “astronaut” eggs.

TEAMS – Middle and high school teams of four to eight students contend in this engineering-based competition that involves hands-on design challenges, multiple choice questions, and an essay based around an annual theme.

National Science Bee – This bee-styled tournament for elementary and middle school students covers science, math, and engineering topics and culminates in a national championship.

EngineerGirl Essay Content – Each fall the site posts an engineering related prompt for students grades 3 – 12 to write about. Despite the name, the content is open to all students in grades 3 – 12, not just girls!

Game-a-thon – From cards, to dice, to board games, games make for creative, hands-on learning. In this competition, students create games based on math concepts and submit videos of their games in action.

American Geosciences Institute Contests – In honor of October’s Earth Science Week, the AGI offers several annual contests for kids that celebrate Earth through visual arts, a nice option to support STEAM curriculums.

VEX Robotics Competition – Get student teams designing and building robots in this popular game-based engineering competition.

MOEMS – This Math Olympiad for students in grades 4 – 8, allows students to compete in teams of up to 35 via an online monthly math test.

STEM Competitions for Middle School Students

Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge – In this competition, students in grades 5 – 8 create videos on unique solutions to everyday problems. Multiple levels of prizes are given, including a $25,000 grand prize.

Future City Competition – Middle school student teams use the engineering design process to create a city 100 years in the future that solves a sustainability issue. Competition elements include virtual city design, physical model construction, essay, and a presentation.

MATHCOUNTS – Each four-student middle school team creates a video that teaches the solution to and a real-world application of a math problem selected from the MATHCOUNT’s handbook. MATHCOUNTS also offers “bee” style competitions and club programs.

eCYBERMISSION – This web-based competition, sponsored by the U.S. Army, is for teams of students in grades 6 – 9 and focuses on real-life applications of STEM.

STEM Competitions for High School Students

SourceAmerica Design Challenge – High school students innovate workplace technologies that diminish obstacles standing between people with disabilities and employment opportunities.

Google Science Fair – Students 13-18 perform in-depth investigations of real-world problems in this competition that awards many prizes in different age categories.

Imagine Cup – Microsoft’s Imagine Cup challenges high school students worldwide to create software applications that help resolve some of the world’s most challenging problems.

Mathworks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge – A free, internet-based math challenge for juniors and seniors that addresses a real-world problem. The competition offers numerous scholarships to top-placing teams.

Clean Tech Competition – Individuals and small student groups research, design, and produce papers around a real-world environmental theme that integrates eco-friendly energy sources.

Regeneron Science Talent Search – Billed as the oldest U.S. science and math competition, this one is limited to high school seniors who submit original science research. The top 300 entries earn cash prizes and finalists will go on to compete for $250,000.

Math Prize for Girls – This is a competitive math prize for high school girls, held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology each fall. Only 300 students will be selected to compete and applicants must take an American Mathematics Competition exam prior to applying for this competition.

This is just a sampling of the many STEM competitions available. Many students also participate in local and regional science fairs that allow students to conduct and present authentic research and potentially compete at the national level in competitions like the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and Broadcom MASTERS. However, most students will not win a national competition, so before entering students in a competition, consider the intrinsic value of participation. Look for well-organized competitions that offer clearly defined rules and judging criteria, as well as constructive feedback for all participants.

Remember to check out Help Teaching’s collection of science worksheets and online lessons to support your science teaching needs. If you enjoyed reading this article, try our Ultimate Guide to Teaching Science.

Ways to Bring Social and Emotional Learning into the Home and Classroom

Ways to Bring Social and Emotional Learning into the Home and ClassroomAs social media becomes more prevalent, social norms change, and incidences of suicide, violence in schools, and drug use among teens increase, social and emotional learning (SEL) becomes more important. It’s not enough for students to know the basics of reading, math, science, and social studies. They must also be taught how to interact with others, manage emotions, and make responsible decisions.

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), there are five key dimensions of social and emotional learning:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management and Emotion Recognition
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship and Social Skills
  • Responsible Decision Making

Incorporating social and emotional learning at home and in the classroom doesn’t require a lot of special effort or isolated activities. Instead, it’s involves being intentional about asking questions and structuring activities in a way that gives children and teens a chance to practice building key skills.


Self-awareness involves helping students recognize their own thoughts and emotions, as well as building their awareness of what is expected during key tasks.

To build self-awareness, you can regularly ask students to share their thoughts and opinions on topics. At home, this may be talking to children and teens about how they’re feeling and encouraging them to consider “what if?” situations. In the classroom, you may try to bring in activities such as:

  • Anticipation guides
  • KWL charts
  • Socratic seminars
  • Journal prompts
  • Reflective journals

In addition to helping children and teens become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, you can improve awareness by explaining how they should behave in a given situation.

For example, if you go out to dinner, you want a child to be more aware of the level of his/her voice and how to act in the situation. To improve that sense of awareness, you may need to point out models of positive behavior or mention positive things the child is doing. For example, “I noticed you’re using a quiet voice. Thank you for remembering to keep your voice down in the restaurant.”

Self-Management and Emotion Recognition

Of course, self-management and emotion recognition directly align with the concept of self-awareness. A child is more aware of his/her actions or emotions may be more likely to better manage those actions and emotions.

A few ways to help children and teens with self-management and emotion recognition include:

  • providing positive reinforcement when a child or teen does something well
  • noting what you observe (“I see you are feeling angry”)
  • developing and following a schedule (created with input from the child/teen)
  • breaking down large projects into smaller parts with milestones to meet
  • discussing how to respond to scenarios that are likely to crop up
  • Goal-setting is also a key element of self-management and emotion recognition. You can encourage children and teens to set personal goals and academic goals. For example, a teen may set a personal goal to make the track team and an academic goal to get a 3.3 GPA. Children and teens can also set financial goals, such as saving up for a special toy or a big trip. Don’t just stop at the goal though. Take the learning further by actually developing a timeline, setting milestones, and regularly checking progress towards the goal.

    Sometimes students won’t reach their goals or respond positively to situations. In those moments, you should be there to provide support and talk through the situation.

    Social Awareness

    Social awareness involves helping children and teens learn how to interact in various situations, as well as how to show empathy and respect for others. Students live in a diverse world and are likely to encounter new perspectives and different opinions every day.

    At school, you can build social awareness by having students:

    • work with those who have different interests, backgrounds, etc.
    • read texts from a diverse group of authors
    • study multiple perspectives on a topic
    • participate in class discussions
    • show respect by listening to others and valuing their opinions
    • modeling how to handle difficult topics or situations

    Parents and teachers should never underestimate the power of their own actions. Children and teens are watching to see how the adults in their lives respond to differing opinions, embrace diversity, and show empathy and respect to others. Your response to a trying situation may be a highly teachable moment.

    Relationship Skills

    Some children and teens can just go right up to a stranger and start talking. They have the ability to easily form relationships and interact with people. For others, it takes more effort. However, relationship skills goes beyond just being able to make friends. It’s also involves communicating with and listening to others, resisting peer pressure, negotiating conflict, and learning to ask for help.

    At home and in the classroom, let children and teens it’s okay to come to you with a problem or to ask for help and respond positively when they do. You may have to remind them a few times or say, “If you want help with that, I’m here to help you.”

    Some other ways to build relationship skills include:

    • role playing conversations children and teens may have
    • refusing to step in when they have a conflict with someone else (unless safety is an issue
    • giving them plenty of opportunities to engage in back-and-forth conversation and modeling good listening skills
    • holding debates in the classroom
    • starting a peer mediation program
    • letting children and teens negotiate with you

    Responsible Decision-Making

    As parents and teachers, it’s easy to want to make decisions for children and teens. However, to function as adults, they need to learn how to responsibly make decisions. Both at home and in the classroom, you can help promote by responsible decision-making by giving children and teens a chance to make choices. Choices can include:

    • rules for the classroom or home
    • the type of activity to complete
    • what to have for dinner
    • what sport or activity to join

    Of course, they’re not always going to make the right decision. That’s why another key component of teaching responsible decision-making is providing a safe place for children and teens to fail and learn from their mistakes. If you berate or ridicule them when they make a mistake, they’ll be less likely to take a risk in the future or they’ll become so concerned with perfection that they’ll drive themselves crazy. Instead, respond to mistakes positively and provide support and guidance to help them grow.

    Remember, it’s not just students with autism or learning disorders who need to build social and emotional skills. Even straight-A students or seemingly well-adjusted children can benefit from a little more help in this area.

    Do you focus on SEL in your home or classroom? If so, we’d love to know how you incorporate SEL activities into your daily routine.

Five Documents that Changed the World (and Will Engage Your Students)

5 Historical Documents that Changed the World
The Social Studies classroom is built around primary source exploration. The use of primary sources can lead to incredible analysis, discussion, and higher level thinking. Use the five sources below in your classroom to engage your students and to explore new and exciting methods of critical thinking and active learning.

1. Magna Carta

The theme of revolution is very apparent in today’s world. The causes of these revolutions reflect the very same issues that have faced people for centuries: equality and protection of rights. While the Magna Carta was not written with regular folks in mind, it certainly has been used that way throughout history. American revolutionaries used this document from 1215 to reinforce their rights as citizens and subjects of the British crown.

Excerpts of the Magna Carta can be used to analyze modern international and national incidents. Two standout sections that can be used in a modern discussion about Ferguson, Missouri, the Assad regime in Syria, or a historical analysis of Stalinist Russia are:

“No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”

“To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice.”

Help Teaching’s library of printable worksheets includes a quiz on the English Monarchy that would serve as an apt companion to a Magna Carta discussion.

2. Bill of Rights

The rights granted to Americans in the first ten amendments to the Constitution are so influential that they can be used across disciplines. These rights are the basis for so many other successful governments across the world that activities related to this document are easy to find and engaging to teach. The Bill of Rights can be analyzed to help your students think beyond the basics and improve their higher level thinking. Another resource offered by Help Teaching is an application of the liberties offered in the Bill of Rights.

3. Washington’s Farwell Address

As he left office, President George Washington was able to encapsulate the conflicts that would soon bubble over in the country he helped to build and protect. This speech gives the students a glimpse into the future of the united States, while also allowing them to engage in critical thinking activities. Students can make inferences and draw conclusions about what may happen next in American history based on Washington’s speech. Help Teaching offers a worksheet that analyzes this historic speech and asks students to compare it to a modern speech given by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

4. Treaty of Versailles

This document ended a world war and started another. It is directly responsible for the anger and desperation that allowed Adolph Hitler to gain power. The Treaty of Versailles can lead to an engaging lesson on long and short term effects or the spoils of war, and allow students to hypothesize and experiment with historical events. These activities would be greatly enhanced with a graphic organizer or a KWL chart that organizes their knowledge base and learning objectives into manageable chunks.

5. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution

The struggle for women’s equality does not garner the same attention as other mistreated groups in many Social studies curricula, but covering the 19th amendment assists the females in the class to take more ownership of the content and exposes the students to women’s issues that still plague the country and the world today. The 19th Amendment can also be used in a larger unit on women’s history. Help Teaching offers a worksheet that can help you to map the unit.

These documents not only had an impact on a specific era, they also connect to so many more events, people, and themes that play a major role in the world today. They also assist teachers in engaging students with critical thinking and higher learning activities. Help Teaching’s library of informational text analysis worksheets will help further your successful implementation of engaging documents in the classroom,  For more tips on using graphic organizers with documents, check out Graphic Organizers in the Social Studies Classroom.